Well blowout prompts tighter fracking rules

A well blowout near Innisfail has prompted new tighter regulations for fracking.

A well blowout near Innisfail has prompted new tighter regulations for fracking.

The Energy Resources Conservation Board released a draft directive on Thursday that sets out additional subsurface requirements for hydraulic fracking operations in Alberta.

Updated regulations focus on additional measures to prevent well failures and to reduce the risk of “interwellbore communication,” which is when fluids flow from one wellbore into another.

Updated measures have also been introduced to reduce the impact on non-saline aquifers, water wells and the surface.

The issue dramatically drew attention in January when a landowner noticed black fluid spewing from a pump jack in a farm field west of Innisfail. On the other side of the hill, a fracking crew had been at work on a Midway Energy well.

An investigation showed that fracking fluids had apparently got into another company’s well at a depth of about 1,850 metres. The pressure from the fracking fluid forced oil out of the well, along with fracking sand and fluids.

A bulletin was issued after that event and it will be incorporated into the new draft regulations, which will replace Directive 27, which covers shallow hydraulic fracking operations.

That directive largely applied to coalbed methane, but the new directive will apply to all hydraulic fracturing operations in shallow zones, which start above 100 metres below the base of groundwater protection, said ERCB spokesperson Cara Tobin.

Additional rules include bigger setbacks from water wells and more notification requirements to the ERCB when fracking is planned and when leaks occur.

Don Bester, of the Alberta Surface Rights Group, is doubtful that the new regulations will make much difference.

“It doesn’t matter how many regulations are there, it’s about the companies following them and enforcing them, and (the ERCB) investigating them.”

The Innisfail incident wasn’t the only one of its kind. There have been many other similar spills that have not been made public, he said.

Bester is doubtful the ERCB is committed to fixing problems.

“We’re not happy. It’s really the same old, the same old — what we expect from the ERCB.”

Tobin said the ERCB is accepting any feedback from landowners, industry or other interested parties until Jan. 18.

“We want to hear to see from people whether it’s gone far enough, whether this meets people’s expectations, and if they have suggestions or recommendations on how we can do an even better job,” said Tobin.

How soon the directive will become official depends on the amount of feedback. For more information, go to www.ercb.ca.

pcowley@bprda.wpengine.com

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